Health

Heading Up Concussion Awareness

Overland Park native and KU student Kylee Bliss turns her struggle with Post-Concussion Syndrome into a way to raise awareness.

Kylee Bliss was a sophomore at Blue Valley High School when two concussions changed her life.

The first day of basketball tryouts, Bliss had hopes of earning a spot on the varsity team when she suffered her first concussion—or so she’s been told.

“I don’t remember the two weeks before or after the injury, so everything that I know is just what other people have told me,” she says. “I didn’t know my name, address, phone number, birthday, anything that I would be expected to know.”

After a month, Bliss was still having symptoms—headaches, dizziness, sensitivity to light and noise, memory problems, constant fatigue—but she wanted to get back in the game. She lied to get cleared to play, then in one of her first games back, she collided with another girl while diving for a loose ball and sustained her second concussion in two months.

The injury ended her basketball career, but it also left Bliss with Post-Concussion Syndrome (PCS), a condition where symptoms following a brain injury last three months or longer. It’s been four years, and Bliss, who just finished her sophomore year at the University of Kansas, still feels the effects of her concussions, including daily headaches, dizziness and sensitivity to light and noise.

If she’d known about the dangers of concussions, she probably wouldn’t have pushed to play before she was ready, Bliss says now. But she had no idea.

“I don’t ever remember hearing about a concussion,” Bliss says. “Both my parents worked in the healthcare field; I don’t remember a single time it was every really talked about.”

Today she makes sure that’s not the case. After 18 months of therapy and dealing with the loss of her ability to play sports, a major part of her life, Bliss thought of a way to turn her experience into a positive for others.

Her vestibular (inner ear/balance) therapist took her out trail running, and “something clicked,” Bliss says. Trail running was a metaphor for how people with PCS go through life, facing different challenges and obstacles, and she decided to organize a trail run to raise awareness for PCS and money for research and prevent it by educating people about traumatic brain injuries.

Kylee Bliss at one of her foundation’s trail run fundraisers.

The idea grew into the HeadsUp Foundation for PCS, and after several years of success, Bliss was recently inducted into the Project Perseverance Hall of Fame, which applauds those with inspirational accomplishments and their contributions to the lives of others. The honor came with a $5,000 donation to HeadsUp.

The money helped fund the foundation’s upcoming Teamwork Makes the Dream Work conference for athletes, parents, coaches and doctors 6-9:30 p.m. June 10 at KU Edwards Campus’ BEST Conference Center. The event will include panel discussions featuring experts on the high school, college and professional level as well as a keynote speech from Anthony Davis, former Kansas City Chiefs linebacker and Super Bowl winner with the Baltimore Ravens.

Though football dominates most conversations about head injuries, Bliss hopes the growing discussion expands to include everyone, including female athletes who might not be as aware of the risks since they don’t play what are considered contact sports. She also wants more people to understand that damage from concussions can be both immediate and long-term, or both in the case of PCS.

Still, Bliss is happy to see a significant increase in awareness about concussions and their impacts.

“I don’t know if you could find someone today who hasn’t heard of a concussion,” Bliss says, “whereas four years ago, I could think of a ton of people who hadn’t.”